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Chelsea Sanders on the financial impact of black women: ‘we represent trillions of dollars’ in the market

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Chelsea Sanders, Refinery29’s ‘Unbothered’ Vice President, joins Yahoo Finance’s Sibile Marcellus and Kristin Myers to discuss the ‘Unbothered’ initiative, a sub-brand of Refinery29 made for black women by black women, as well as how to diversify the media and get more minority voices heard in corporate America.

Video Transcript


KRISTIN MYERS: Welcome back to "A Time for Change." Now, it is no secret that newsrooms and, frankly, the media at large are predominantly white. But that's beginning to change, including at Refinery29, the online women's media brand, which in 2017 launched a sub brand called Unbothered, a platform for Black women by Black women.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: We are joined now by Chelsea Sanders, vice president of Unbothered. Chelsea, Apple, Nike, Google are all among companies that have recognized the importance of Juneteenth. How far has corporate America come? And how far does it still need to go in order to fulfill the promises that Juneteenth represents?

CHELSEA SANDERS: Yeah, I mean, I was just listening to a law professor who was speaking earlier about personal responsibility, institutional responsibility, and what we still need to do to bring up the promise of Juneteenth freedom and liberation to its fruition as promised.

And I think, great, we love it. We'd love to hear that 48 states have made it a holiday. We love to hear that Apple, Peloton-- all of these brands are invested in this conversation. But what we need to ensure, as the law professor noted, is that these symbolic gestures are not lost on the overall conversation.

And that's something that we're really, really intentional with at Unbothered. Unbothered was created by and for Black women. We are the audience. We invest in these stories. We have been celebrating Juneteenth since its inception.

And now that the rest of the world has recognized that Black people do indeed exist last year, there's an opportunity to take that energy and build on it and to grow on it. And that's what we do every day at Unbothered. We try to tell the stories that maybe you haven't heard before or have been misrepresented and really tell our history through our own lens and through our own voices.

And that, I think, is one of the most important things when we think about Juneteenth and we think about the promise that this country still owes us that we really need to recognize and realize that our choices and our voices as Black people and as Black women need to be centered full stop.

KRISTIN MYERS: So Chelsea, you're talking a bit about unbothered. And really, when I was looking at unbothered, I just kind of really just struck me how Unbothered is really a space that both encourages and celebrates Black beauty, Black joy, Black strength.

I'm curious to know, especially as we have Juneteenth this coming Saturday, how can Black women essentially be unbothered at home, at work, just every day on the street and in society at large?

CHELSEA SANDERS: You know, it is a daily practice. One of the things I said, and one of the reasons why we named it Unbothered is in order to be a Black woman in this world today, especially now, sometimes you just have to be unbothered.

And that means finding safe spaces where you can go off with each other, where you can learn from each other, where you can grow from each other, and also recognizing that some of, again, these institutional places that haven't always accepted us maybe aren't the things that we should be seeking anyways and really untethering ourselves on learning, being unapologetic in our blackness in our joy and our freedom, in our celebrations and recognizing that we don't need any outside validation. We are Black women. We are literally the backbone of this country. We deserve more, and we are demanding more.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: And Chelsea, what has been the financial impact of launching Unbothered for Refinery29?

CHELSEA SANDERS: Yeah, that's a great question. So one of the things I always say is Unbothered started again with the Black employees, myself included. We weren't seeing ourselves in our content. We weren't seeing ourselves in our competitor's content. And we weren't seeing it out in the world.

So we created it as an outlet for ourselves. But we also recognize that it was a huge opportunity for our brand. Black women are good for business-- full stop again. We are one of the biggest consumers. We represent trillions of dollars just when it comes to the beauty, fashion, entertainment, live audio markets.

We have an immense buying power. And we also are supremely loyal brand evangelists. We get on social media. We are three times as likely to say, yes, buy this brand than any other group. And that is power. So there's huge power in this brand. And we also created it as an offering for our community.

And one of the things that we've seen over the past three years is that that engagement and that dedication to these conversations have come back to us three-fold when it comes to building a brand and a business. So we are developing conversations that are editorial, but also in partnership with brands, like Target and Ulta, and really some of these really blue chip brands that are seeking to understand this audience, but also have a peer-to-peer conversation.

And that's what Unbothered is. We're not talking down to you. We're not talking above you. We're not telling you what you should do. We're not prescribing. We are giving you the choice and the freedom. We're your big sister.

And honestly, who doesn't want to talk to your big sister and get some good recommendation tools for what to put in your hair-- what to walk out in the street on? That power and that evangelism that we created with our community is huge. And that impact on business is immeasurable.

KRISTIN MYERS: Now, I have to mention that Refinery29 has dealt with some very public allegations of racism, of having a toxic workplace. Is Unbothered the way that Refinery29 has really changed over the last couple of years? And just more broadly-- and I think so many Black women face racism and toxism in the workplace-- if you are a Black woman that is in that kind of environment, how should you manage moving forward?

CHELSEA SANDERS: Yeah. One of the things that I think is really important to note is that Unbothered started with support from our brand in 2017, again, previous to 2020, previous to everything that happened last year. And so I think that is a testament to the energy behind this brand, the support that we have, and now the investment that we're seeing even further now as part of Vice Media Group.

Unbothered has grown so much in the past three years, and it's only getting bigger. And what I will say is that now, in 2021, I am in the altogether too unique position of being able to work with my peers who have had similar lived experience as me and perspectives of me as a Black woman.

And I'm also part of a larger Refinery29 team whose perspectives are rooted in empathy and shared values and a dedication to inclusivity. That is not the case at a lot of workplaces. And that's a conversation that we needed to be having.

We need to be uncomfortable. We need to be asking, who's on your team? Who is in the room making those decisions? Who's in the one they know? Who are the people that we're educating? Who are the people that we're putting forward and making sure that it is as diverse as the world around us and the content that we create.

And the content that we create is also reflected internally with the people who build it and the investments that we make in them. And I think that's also one of the reasons why we started some of our columns about my business.

Laurise McMillian, one of the Unbothered OGs, started this column this year to talk about how hard it is to be a Black woman at work. Regardless of where you work, being a Black woman in the workforce is difficult when it comes to microaggression, salary negotiations, gatekeepers.

These are things that as Black women, many of us have never been taught. We've never been told that. We don't know how to build generational wealth. We don't know how to file our taxes as an entrepreneur. We don't know to step to our boss and say, hey, I'm doing all of this work. I should be compensated differently for it.

And so that's why we wanted to invest in things like about my business and this column to be able to share resources and share equity. And that is really one of the things that I think is so important that Black women who are in similar positions share notes.

We need to talk to each other. We need to recognize that, Hey, are you not getting some of this? Do we need to switch some of this up so that we can understand that when we win, we all win. And that is how you build generational wealth, right?

That is how you build things like Unbothered with that support and that buy-in from the internal community. And then the external community can recognize it or not. But we're still going to do it.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: Chelsea Sanders sharing notes with us-- vice-president of Unbothered.